Tianna Bartoletta at the 2015 Seiko Golden Grand Prix in Kawasaki (Getty Images) © Copyright
Preview Kawasaki, Japan

World champions Barber and Bartoletta add lustre to Kawasaki's Golden Grand Prix

The Seiko Golden Grand Prix in Kawasaki will feature two world champions in the shape of Canada's Shawn Barber in the pole vault and USA's Tianna Bartoletta in the long jump, as well as a number of medallists from the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 at the third IAAF World Challenge meeting of 2016 on Sunday (8).

Barber, who was born and raised in the USA and attended Akron University but competes for the country of his father, joined the six-metre club when he cleared that height at the Pole Vault Summit in Reno in January.

He can expect competition from local star and defending champion Seito Yamamoto, who finished second in Reno by clearing a personal best of 5.77m and was sixth at the 2013 World Championships.

Bartoletta, who went a decade between world titles before winning again in Beijing last summer, will be aiming to complete the 100m-long jump double for the second straight year.

She will be challenged in the sprint by world indoor 60m champion and compatriot Barbara Pierre and Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare, the 2013 world 200m bronze medallist.

In the long jump, Bartoletta will take on Australia's Brooke Stratton, who jumped a national record of 7.05m in March.

Meanwhile, the men's high jump features a duel between Chinese stars Zhang Guowei, the world silver medallist who will fly straight to Japan from the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of the year in Doha, and Wang Zu, last year's national champion.

China's world bronze medallist Wang Jianan heads a men's long jump field that includes five jumpers who have topped the eight-metre mark.

Sub-10 the target

The men’s 100m, garnering significant local interest, features a trio of young Japanese sprinters who are knocking on the door of the milestone of going below 10 seconds.

Among those aiming to make Japanese history in the Todoroki Stadium will be Yoshihide Kiryu, Abdul Hakim Sani Brown, and 2012 Olympian Ryota Yamagata.

Kiryu came closest to Koji Ito's Japanese record of 10.00, which has stood since 1998, when he stunned the athletics world by clocking 10.01 as a 17-year-old in 2013.

Yamagata put his name among the contenders when he ran 10.07 in London. Having returned from a back injury, the 2013 national champion recently ran 10.27 into a -2.5m/s wind.

"I had some anxiety, but I was able to run relaxed," Yamagata, 23, told the Japanese press. "If the wind was with me, it might have been a personal best. I had some tough times, but I never lost hope and I kept my feet on the ground. But I still haven't passed the Olympic qualifying time, and I'm still not No.1 in Japan so I still have to take it one step at a time. I think I'm at the point where I can challenge Kiryu."

Kiryu, who last year ran a wind-assisted 9.87 at the Texas Relays, spent the build-up to this season training in the USA. He returned to Austin for his first outdoor meeting of the season, where he ran 10.24 into a -1.4m/s wind. 

Sani Brown, a Tokyo high school student whose father is Ghanaian and mother is Japanese, became a national hero when he completed a sprint double at the IAAF World Youth Championships Cali 2015, breaking Usain Bolt's meeting record in the 200m in the process.

He has got off to a slow start this season, losing several domestic races to Japanese competitors and not yet bettering his career best of 10.28 but 2005 world champion Justin Gatlin sees great potential in the teenager.

"I like his style, his swag, his confidence he has," said Gatlin, who ran head-to-head with Sani Brown in the 200m semi-finals at last summer's World Championships.

"He showed confidence even in the rounds at the World Championships, especially in the 200m. That's going to be a focal point for him to keep that confidence. He can definitely be a contender in the sprinting world."

Gatlin had endeared himself to Japanese fans at the World Championships in Beijing, when he was shown on TV going out of his way to personally congratulate and praise Sani Brown after their 200m semi-final.

"I like the Asian meets," he said. "I like coming here, I like going to China. I like the races, I like the culture, I like being able to get away from 'our' side of the world and experience a different kind of culture."

The Kawasaki meeting marks the start in earnest of his season, which is aimed squarely at an anticipated showdown with Usain Bolt at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Ken Marantz for the IAAF